Report on service from 112 Squadron - Feliks Gazda
The text below is the report of F/Lt Feliks Gazda in service with the 112 "Shark" Squadron (in the years 1941-1942). The text was written about the year 1942 in North Africa:
in the squadron at the front from 31.11.41-5.5.42
The fighter pilot school in Khartoum provided an opportunity for an excellent preparation for battle. In spite of this, the majority of our pilots came out of it without adequate preparation. Pilots were rarely assigned individually to the training course as we were. More often, members of entire squadrons and other organized units passed through the entire program on the orders of their commander. As a result, individual pilots tried to leave the school as quickly as possible, without sufficiently mastering their training. This is how it was for us with these pilots. They left for the front having between 14-20 hours of formation flying (this was something we noticed in particular). The school authorities took into account the desire to go to the front quickly and so, a pilot with sufficient number of hours but not the quality of assignments, could leave the school. Training in OTU consisted of ground and air training.
Ground training (servicing of equipment and tactical training) allowed pilots the possibility of acquiring the maximum knowledge in a very accessible format. The British and our Polish authorities ensured the acquisition and making possible these studies. We had all the educational help possible. All the instructors worked hard on our behalf. The Polish authorities assigned us translators and all tactical training was translated into Polish. Pilots sufficiently mastered the ground training.
Air training. The time for air training was not specified, a pilot could study between 3-7 weeks depending on how fast he wished to go to the front. The training program consisted of 25 assignments, including night flights.
Our pilots were not trained sufficiently. There were the following reasons for this: pilots had between 100 to 150 hours of ferrying flights on fighter aircraft, resulting in the school authorities viewing them as experienced fighter pilots, apparently not realizing that except for good landings, these people had absolutely no idea of fighter pilot training. After having flown many hours as a ferry pilot, and an insufficient amount of hours as a fighter pilot, they were supposed to go to the front - they finished school. The pilots themselves began to say that school had not given them anything. It did not give them anything because they wanted to leave quickly. For example, one can give witness by comparing my flights to theirs. I was a fighter pilot for 8 years. They were, for the most part, civil pilots of flying clubs. In school, I carried out about 25 flights, among these 10 involved firing my weapons, others executed between 14 and 20, among them just two or three with weapons practice. Our superiors heard about this and also gave the opportunity for additional schooling. The pilots, except for me, were all sent to gunnery school in Bibeis. I am not able to write much about that school. I know that the school had been recently established, was not completely organized, and that there, they [the pilots] executed between two and six flights and returned to the front. The will to finish quickly as well as not paying attention to my recommendations (I could only serve by giving advice since I had no other authority), avenged itself. In my opinion, there were about four pilots who were good as ferry pilots, the rest were barely able to maintain themselves in the air. As an example, I can mention a conversation after sortie. When I asked a pilot what he did when he was attacked by the enemy, he answered "I pushed my stick and escaped to earth". Or a pilot exits from his plane after a patrol says "today's flight went very well, because the gyro was always in the middle".
We arrived at the front to be part of the 112 squadron on February 10, 1942. There we were introduced to a new type of aircraft, the "Kitty". Again, the pilots did not listen to my advice; for them only the English were their superiors. Without any real training, after just two test flights, we flew fighter missions. During the first flight, F/O Matusiak was killed while doing a dogfight within 100 meters in an unknown type of aircraft for him.
The following was the method of putting us to work: After completing two flights on the new type of aircraft, the commander asked if we felt good. Naturally, we all replied that we felt more than good. We should have, in my opinion, executed between five and ten flights. We were posted on the waiting list for sortie. This was quite a briefing. To remain at the ready. The work in the squadron was organized in such a way that half the day, half the pilots sat in their aircraft and then the next half of the day, the second half of the pilots. If there was a readiness, then the pilots sat around all day. I did not hear of any assignments which went beyond the appointment of a place in battle listing. Preceding and following a flight, with the exception of when there was a meeting, it was necessary to give a report to the information officer.
The news of the enemy and equipment was limited to the posting of aircraft silhouettes in the officers' mess. I do not recall us being informed of news about where the enemy front was or where their air bases were located. The planes were not identified by name and in this connection I heard complaints from our pilots. The method of how assignments were executed was as follows: The squadron's officer commanding (who had about 20 hits) had a couple of section leaders. The rest of the pilots, as extras, covered the rear. (...) During the attack of the enemy, which was generally from a higher altitude (Kitty is a low altitude plane) the pilots turned either towards the left or right. Those attacked were left on the battlefield, and the rest, not seeing the enemy, returned to the air base. I cannot recall if any squadron returned to the air base as a whole. Return to base was done singly, in pairs and in groups of fives. The reasons for this were unknown, due to the fact, I suspect, that no one asked.
There were quite a few encounters, about 3 a week. There were losses in each encounter, with the exception of encounters with Italians. The mood was, after a while, generally poor. Pilots were killed by the enemy or got into a flat spin (that is how three pilots died during my stay with the squadron). On one occasion, three priests of different faiths came to our squadron. They sat with us, heard confessions, and held services. Coinciding with their visit, the quality of our food improved because there was a joint mess set up with the non-commissioned officers. This was during a particularly depressing time. This method of religious consolation, did not, I suspect lift the mood. For me, personally, it had a negative impact.
The activities executed were the following:
2) close cover
The first type of activity, so-called scrambling, where pilots were in their aircraft, had as its objective, to fight the enemy, who had crossed the front. This method was not always effective at a distance of about 70 miles from the front. So, after a certain time, the squadron was moved to about 40 miles from the front. The enemy harassed our squadron by bombing using single fighter planes, sometimes quite accurately, due to the impossibility for complete or even partial camouflage in the desert. We were forced to move the squadron backwards. The resolution of this matter was as follows: for the daytime, the squadron started for the advanced air base and in the evening returned to the main base. It was a type of ambushing to a large extent. I think this was a better approach to our work, although it was changed after a short time.
Cover. This type of activity did not differ from our cover, with the exception that cover here was not only from above, but also for both sides of the bombing formation.
Bombing. The target was sought out by the pilot or assigned in advance. Bombing from low altitudes gives excellent results. I saw how one fighter pilot damaged about six planes on one flight.
Sweeps. Sweeps are done by two squadrons, and in the following way, so that part of the flying force flies over the enemy (for example, an air base), and then the majority of the forces encounters the enemy after the passing over and provoking of the enemy. The objective and method of this type of activity does not differ from our own. The destruction of the enemy which is encountered happens at various altitudes.
General observations. In spite of inadequate flight training from a fighter pilot perspective, pilots flew quite often, especially the non-commissioned officers, in difficult desert conditions, put in enormous degrees of effort. People got used up at a very high rate in these conditions. Evidence of this is the fact that, during my term of service with the squadron from 10 February 1941 to 5 May 1942, the entire personnel of the squadron changed, with the exception of 3 other pilots and 8 of our own group. The English personnel section is, in my opinion, very good, since they facilitate matters for each pilot to transfer to a non-operational unit after 3 months duty, as a result of which the mood among pilots does not manifest itself by hopelessly sitting in the squadron until the time of their demise. Among our pilot group of eight, three were shot down. Witnessing this, seeing their colleagues leaving the squadron and encountering other problems probably caused them to apply for transfers to Polish squadrons. The exhaustion of combat troops, support staff and equipment in the desert is incommensurately big compared to that in other situations. In these special conditions it is necessary, in my opinion, to rotate personnel like the English do. A squadron made up of so many nationalities, does not give excellent results. In spite of professional collegiality, small groups always form. There were about 3 English, about 3 Canadians, 8 Australians and 8 Poles.
Radio communications can often be misleading or create linguistic misunderstandings, especially in serious situations, when one needs them most.
Encounters and tactical battles with the enemy. Encounters, as I have noted previously, happened quite often. In principle the enemy flew at a greater altitude than us and attacked from above. Our course of action was, in such cases, defensive. We avoided [the enemy] by turning right or left and attacked the enemy after being attacked by them. We had a numerical superiority, outnumbering them, in spite of the fact that about 15% of our aircraft did not start for one reason or another. The Germans flew together with the Italians very often. The Macchi 202 aircraft, during battles with our pilots, proved to be inferior. During one battle, there was a loss of about 10 Macchis. The Messerschmitt 109s appeared in groups of two, four or six. The Germans flew in small groups, attacking even our large groups, attacking once and escaping, not engaging in battle. Once or two to three times a month, about 30 or 40 Messerschmitts appeared making obvious sweeps. It is suspected that they gathered at the base in Sicily for a couple of days, and then again formed small groups (...) attacked us and made their escape. I will say a few words about the bases. The bases were good (landing grounds), always able to refuel entire squadrons simultaneously. After starting out, we gained altitude in the desert, where there were not much surveillance. It was difficult to camouflage the base. Camouflaging was limited to installing the squadron in a vast space, 2 kilometers. Sometimes, they positioned decoy aircraft, German planes or their own no longer serviceable aircraft, in various places. I did not see any German bombers during the daytime, most likely as a result of our advantage. However, I did witness, on a couple of occasions, that they did bomb us using single fighter planes, Messerschmitt 109s. The enemy flew very high, and then at a certain time, with a suitable angle of light, they flew down low over the base, dropping bombs. (...) The night fighter air force has a relatively good job, because of the clear nights and frequent enemy flights.
(translation by Diana Dale)